With over 14.4 million Google search results for the term ‘keto diet,’ there’s clearly a huge (and growing) appetite for this unconventional way of eating. But with so much information—and misinformation—floating around out there, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what the diet really is.
On a ketogenic diet, the bulk of your calories come from fats from a variety of plant and animal sources, with protein and carbs making up the few remaining calories. Eating this way shifts the body into a state called ketosis, in which it uses fat for energy instead of the usual sugar. Keto eaters report weight loss, more stable blood sugar, and steady energy as its major perks.
That doesn’t mean you’ll eat nothing but spoonfuls of butter and oil, though. To reap the potential benefits of eating keto, you need to separate fact from fiction. Look out for these keto misconceptions the next time you take to Google.
Myth #1: Keto Is Protein-Heavy
Contrary to what you may have heard (or what’s tagged #keto on Instagram), protein isn’t the focus of the keto diet—and too much of it can actually throw keto off track. Our body can convert protein into glucose, which it can then use for fuel instead of fat, shifting you out of the fat-burning state you’re striving for.
While protein won’t be the star of your plate, you can still meet your needs on a keto diet. Most people need between 0.8 and one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is just about 55 grams a day for someone who weighs 150 pounds, says dietitian Kristen Mancinelli, M.S., R.D.N., who specializes low carb diets. Getting there takes just three ounces of salmon (20 grams), three ounces of chicken (28 grams), and either an egg or an ounce of almonds (six grams each).
Myth #2: Low-Carb And Keto Are Basically The Same
Though a keto diet is certainly low-carb, a low-carb diet isn’t necessarily keto, says Mancinelli. For most people, about 100 grams of carbs a day would be considered low-carb. On keto, that intake needs to be significantly lower, around 20 to 30 grams a day—though people who are very active and have a lot of lean body mass may be able to handle a little more. Eat just a few grams of carbs too many and your body shifts right back to burning sugar for fuel, she says.
Myth #3: Eating Fat Automatically Makes You Fat
With plenty of low-fat foods still inhabiting grocery store shelves, many people still can’t shake the idea that eating fat will make them gain weight—but we now know that it’s the combo of fat with highly-processed carbs and sugars that leads to weight gain, says fitness and nutrition expert Carrie Burrows, Ph.D., C.P.T.
With processed carbs and sugar off the table in keto, you’ll get your fats from wholesome, nutritious sources like grass-fed butter, avocado, and nuts. You may even end up eating fewer calories overall, since ketones—the energy-producing compounds your body produces from stored fat—have an appetite-suppressing effect, adds Jadin.
An article recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association notes that keto dieters tend to have fewer hunger pangs than other dieters. And while keto dieters may initially shed a few pounds of water weight (from slashing carbs), the diet supports continued weight loss by encouraging the body to tap into fat stores for energy.
Myth #4: Keto Isn’t Heart-Healthy
The illusion that keto is high-protein diet loaded with saturated fat-containing burgers and bacon also leads to the fallacy that it isn’t optimal for health, since a disproportionately high intake of saturated fat is linked to an increased heart disease risk, says Mancinelli. (A higher intake of unsaturated fats reduces this risk.)
A healthy keto diet contains a variety of fats: monounsaturated fats from olive oil, avocado, and nuts; polyunsaturated fats from fatty fish; and saturated fats from meat, eggs, and coconut oil. “Remember: a ketogenic diet is one in which you consume mostly fat from a variety of plant and animal sources, not mostly meat,” Mancinelli says.
It’s also important to keep in mind that heart disease develops over time due to many factors, including smoking, weight, family history, and more, says Sarah Jadin, M.S., R.D., C.S.P., C.D., C.N.S.C, of Keto Diet Consulting. “To draw a direct (and short) line from eating a high fat diet to having a heart attack is oversimplified and cartoonish at best,” she says.
Myth #5: You Don’t Eat Veggies On Keto
One big misconception about keto is that there isn’t room for vegetables on your plate, primarily because they contain too many carbs. But plant-based foods—and the vitamins, minerals, and fiber they offer—are key to a balanced keto diet, urges Jadin.
It’s true, you’ll want to steer clear of starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, which rack up the carbs quickly; but you can (and should) still load up on non-starchy vegetables—especially fiber-rich leafy greens. Spinach, arugula, and broccoli, for example, all contain less than two grans of net carbs per serving.
When building your meals, start with your fat source, and then incorporate a non-starchy veggie, says Jadin. For breakfast, you might have a vegetable omelet; for lunch and dinner, help yourself to a serving of greens sautéed in oil.
Myth #6: Keto Isn’t Sustainable Long-Term
It’s true, keto’s strict nature isn’t for everyone, but people who enjoy structure and routine can do really well on the diet long-term, says Jadin. “There are many people who have been following a keto lifestyle for years,” she says. The key to making keto stick is to think of it as a lifestyle and not just a ‘diet’—and many people are so motivated by the weight loss and health benefits the experience after going keto, that they readily make it a permanent lifestyle, says Jadin.
Going keto for good may still sound intimidating, but a growing body of research suggests it may have some benefits for metabolic and cognitive health.
Planning out meals in advance and carrying keto-friendly snacks like nuts, seeds, cheese sticks, and hard-boiled eggs can help you stay on-track with keto long-term.
Keep your keto facts straight with this handy infographic: